IT’S EARLY ENOUGH in the New Year for at least some people to still be tracking their new exercise regime, diet, or other self-improvement plan. Maybe they’re using an app or a Fitbit to gauge how things are going. For my 2018 betterment effort, I’m referring to a short Bible passage.
Truth be told, many years into this Christian walk thing, I sometimes wonder if I have made any progress. Often it feels like I am still wandering around in the desert, like the Israelites.
Looking back, I think one of the problems has been that I have sometimes allowed Christian culture to be the measure of my spiritual life, rather than the Bible itself. You may know the drill: have a daily quiet time; avoid R-rated movies; don’t smoke or drink or go out with girls who do, that sort of thing.
None of those practices are bad in and of themselves. But they should be what comes out of my relationship with Jesus, not things that I think will get me into one with Him. They are the result, not the requirement.
Then, recently, I came across a passage that seem to provide a short and clear outline and measure of spiritual growth. It’s in Colossians 1: 9-13 (ESV):
And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.
Here’s what I saw:
How do we know when our lives measure up to what God has in mind? When we are “fully pleasing” to Him—walking “in a manner worthy” of Him. So what does that look like? Four things stand out:
1. Bearing fruit in every good work. We’re not talking about earning a good salary here. Are there results—is there new life and growth—from my service to and interactions with others? Am I making a difference? This is not really about me, of course, but the fact that I am showing up, available for God to work through me.
2. Increasing in the knowledge of God. This is not knowing about God, but knowing Him personally. Not being able to use the Bible like a manual but, as I have said before, to see it as an expression of Immanuel, God with us. In other words, I’m at a place where I am not asking, “What would Jesus do?” but rather asking, “Jesus, what would You have me do?”
3. Being strengthened… for all endurance and patience with joy. Forget how I am when things are going well and God’s blessings are apparent; what am I like when the lights dim and the cold winds blow? Is my faith dependent on circumstances, or can I depend on it whatever the circumstances?
4. Giving thanks. This carries an echo from the previous point, of course, but I think there is more to it too. Gratitude is not just about what we say, but how we live as a result—showing generosity of spirit (and time and money) to others. It’s one thing to sing cheerfully in church, but how does this carry over into the rest of my week, when I leave?
In the light of all this, spiritual growth in 2018 becomes not just a hazy wish, but a direct challenge. I have my work cut out for me.
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